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NYC schools chancellor Black steps down

New York City schools chancellor Cathie Black is

New York City schools chancellor Cathie Black is under fire again for how she spoke to parents and others at the end of a five-and-a-half hour public hearing on Tuesday over the closing of schools. (Nov. 9, 2010) Credit: AP

Embattled New York City schools Chancellor Cathleen Black, a magazine executive with no experience in education whose approval rating had hit rock bottom, agreed to step down Thursday, the mayor announced.

Black, 66, agreed to resign after a private meeting Thursday morning with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The mayor made the announcement during a late-morning news conference at City Hall, calling it a "mutual" decision. He said Black will be replaced by Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott.

"We both agreed that the story had become her and it should be about the students," said Bloomberg, flanked by Walcott and PS 10 students. Black was not at the news conference.

Black stepped down under pressure following a week in which the fourth of eight high-ranking education officials who served under her predecessor, Joel Klein, resigned.

The November announcement of Black as Klein's replacement to run the largest public education system in the United States shocked many observers. She had guided Hearst Magazines, but had no experience in education.

The mayor defended his decision to hire Black despite opposition from educators, elected officials and parents. Bloom-berg said Black "worked tirelessly to learn the ins and outs" of the city's public school system.

"I take full responsibility that it has not worked out. It is now time to look forward and not back," Bloomberg said, adding that the controversy surrounding Black's qualifications to lead a school system of 1.1 million students distracted her attention to lead.

Bloomberg, who heralded education as a priority for his third term, told naysayers that Black was a solid -- if unconventional -- choice for the post.

In just three months on the job, Black had seen her approval rating fall to 17 percent. The Associated Press reported that during one community meeting Black was heckled by hostile parents -- and heckled them back. She also joked that school overcrowding could be fixed with birth control.

A Marist College/NY1 poll released this week found that 17 percent of New York City adults approved of the job she was doing, down from 21 percent in February. Like Black, Walcott will need a waiver from the Board of Regents to become chancellor.Walcott has 30 years invested in city schools as a kindergarten teacher, a parent and as the mayor's point man on city schools for the past 10 years, Bloomberg said.

The mayor lauded him as a product of city schools and said Walcott's own grandson attends public school. Black's children attend private school in Connecticut.

Raised in Queens, Walcott attended PS 36, JHS 192, and Francis Lewis High School.

He is the first in his family to graduate college and has two master's degrees in education. He also worked as a social worker and foster care worker.

"I am blessed and lucky," Walcott said. "I'm just a guy from Queens. But I have visited hundreds and hundreds of schools across the city and held the hands of school children."

Councilman Charles Barron of Brooklyn, a staunch critic of Black and the mayor, said at City Hall after the announcement that the mayor wasted valuable educational time -- three months -- because of Black's appointment.

"She was forced down our throats because of the mayor's arrogance and incompetence," said Barron, who will advocate for an open hiring process that includes a national search for a new schools chancellor.

With John Valenti

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